Pittsburgh hockey fans are the only fans anywhere, of any sport, who celebrate when their announcer exclaims, “She wants to buy my monkey.” We know that is good news, and if it’s quickly followed by “Shave my face with a rusty razor,” we know the Penguins are scoring goals. This is normal behavior in the Steel City; nothing weird here.
Hard to believe this is the Pens’ sixth season at the Consol Energy Center. Yes, it is clean and modern and was necessary, but count me in with those who miss the Igloo. The Civic Arena was an architectural gem that was ahead of its time. Three Stanley Cups were won while they played there and it was also where the Jean-Claude Van Damme classic Sudden Death was filmed. Consol was featured in the Robert DeNiro-Sylvester Stallone movie Grudge Match, but it’s just not the same.
But despite my love of the old building, Pens fans pack Consol for every game, also known as “The House that Sidney Crosby Built.” The fans are still just as helpful as they’ve always been, offering players helpful advice like “shoot the puck” and the less specific “get it outta there!” Another tradition that’s followed them into the new facility is getting riled up at ex-Pen Jaromir Jagr.
A recent game brought Jagr and his team-of-the-week, the Florida Panthers, to Pittsburgh. Jagr is still booed vociferously every time he touches the puck, despite being the second-best player in the history of this franchise. By the end of this season he will pass Gordie Howe for the third-most points in NHL history. But in Pittsburgh, he is Public Enemy No. 1. You can hate Jagr if you want, but you cannot deny his place in mullet history. Jags has vowed to go retro and bring back his sweet mullet for the 2015-16 season. Stand back MacGyver, Randy Johnson, Lionel Richie and Florence Henderson (check out season four of The Brady Bunch) and give proper respect. The legendary Czech will be in the mullet and the NHL Halls of Fame.
This year, the third- and fourth-best players in Penguins history — Sid Crosby and Evgeni Malkin — are back; so is much underappreciated goalie Marc Andre Fleury. An injection of offensive firepower was needed after the Pens limped their way out of the postseason with a first-round loss to the New York Rangers. The Penguins acquired Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs. The only downside of the Kessel acquisition is that it brings out the annoying new-jersey guys. You know the type; they rush out to be the very first person with a jersey of the latest player. The only thing more annoying than new-jersey guys are New Jersey guys. And while I hate new-jersey guys, I love old old-jersey guys. So, if you hung on to your Rob Scuderi or Ben Lovejoy jerseys, you can dust them off. Both players have returned to the Pens after playing hockey in California.
I would imagine Pens coach Mike Johnston is feeling a sense of urgency this season. While Crosby, Malkin and Fleury are not old by regular-people standards, all of them are in the 28- to 30-year range. That’s old enough to qualify for the early-bird special in NHL years. Scuderi, Chris Kunitz and Pascual Dupuis are all 36. We might need to put blades on their Rascal scooters. Perhaps to offset the graybeards, 18-year-old Dutchman (is that the preferred nomenclature?) Daniel Sprong made the team. The most difficult challenge I faced at that age was hoping my fake ID would fool the bouncer at the bar. They will need his energy to compete in the stupidly named Metropolitan division.
Hockey, in my opinion, is the most exciting sport to see live. Football is made for television and baseball is great on the radio, but hockey is the best when you are right there. Maybe I would have played the sport if it were not so expensive. Watching it is not much cheaper. Not too many cheap seats unless you are a college student. Maybe I should contact my old fake-ID guy and see if he can whip me up a college ID — I’m thinking Harvard or Yale — just so I can get into the games for cheap. If I could pull that off, I would be “smiling like a butcher’s dog.”